Premium Rush, on paper, is a curious idea for a movie. Take all the essential elements of your typical “chase scene” action movie, but substitute the protagonist’s vehicle with a fixed-gear bike. Couple this with the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s stock has never been higher, and the end result is a ton of potential for a filmic thrill ride. Levitt plays Wilee, a speedster who works for a rush delivery company that executes strictly on bikes. After ending up with a very valuable package to deliver, a dirty cop that owes a huge gambling debt in the China Town community decides to target Wilee, and chase scenes ensue. Many, many chase scenes.
Premium Rush gets a lot right. The chopped time intervals don’t interrupt the flow of the film, the zoomed-out GPS view of the biker’s routes are a nice touch, and the slow motion alternative outcome scenes in some Levitt’s most decisive moments add both suspense and slightly dark humor. I can get past the idea that the characters openly use their cell phones while riding at ridiculously dangerous speeds and that the main character seems to promote bikes not having brakes because, ultimately, the bike riding in the movie is simply fun to watch. Premium Rush is able to captivate to the point of getting someone like myself, who knows very little about the world of bikes, to actually care about Wilee and his passion for riding. Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), Wilee’s love interest, is tragically underwritten in the movie and shines in the few scenes she actually plays a role in. Her tough, capable, and independent characteristics are very believable, maybe even more so than that of Wilee himself.
Alas, the same compliments of character cannot be said about the antagonist, Bobby Monday, the dirty cop. Maybe it was the lack of a true backstory to support this villain’s buildup, but I simply could not buy into Monday’s addiction to gambling or even comprehend how he wound up in the personal bind he was even in. If the concept of a cop desperately chasing a biker around New York seems goofy, it’s because it is. Premium Rush’s biggest challenge is attempting to combat that notion. The chase scenes are very entertaining, but when one strips this movie down to the bone, what is literally happening on the screen is completely silly and not captivating in any way whatsoever.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a valiant effort in making Premium Rush an action movie worth watching, but such obstacles as a poor villain (not to mention a completely outdated and unrealistic view of the China Town underground) end up tainting the finished product. There are some cheap thrills and nice effects in the filmmaking itself, but ultimately I am left unsatisfied. When “Suck it, douchebag!” is meant to be a meaningful moment in your movie, you may want to rethink the backbone (or lack thereof) of the story you’re presenting.
5.5 out of 10